Skip to main content

Full text of "An accommodation program for second-generation Chinese"

See other formats



Stanford University, California 

The problem of second-generation Chinese has, from 
time to time, appeared in periodical literature both in this 
country and in China. We hear complaints and indict- 
ments from both Chinese and "the 100-per-cent Ameri- 
cans"; we observe a general attitude of heedlessness and 
desperation among many young victims of circumstances ; 
and, though less commonly, we hear suggestions for the 
solution of the problem. But after all there seems still to 
be a need for an accommodation program for second- 
generation Chinese. 

The following program is based on the writer's observa- 
tions and contact with the Chinese youth in this country 
during the last five years. A recent discussion of the pro- 
gram with many leaders of the group encourages the writer 
to publish it in order to reach more Chinese youth and 
secure cooperation from those who are sympathetic with 
or actually working for the welfare of the Chinese in 
America. The salient purpose of the writer is to stimulate 
thinking a- veil as action. 


The problem of second-generation Chinese generally in- 
volves the following groups: the American public, the 
Chinese parents, the teachers in public schools, the teachers 
in the Chinese-language schools, the Chinese children, and 

*The writer is greatly in debt to Dr. Emory S. Bogardus and Dr. Clarence M. 
Case for the title and many other suggestions. 


the grown-up, second-generation Chinese. To consider the 
question from a practical point of view, however, we shall 
lay the responsibility only on those who could help in part 
to avert the existing situation if they would. For this 
reason the following groups are selected for the discussion, 
and special stress will be placed on the grown-up second- 
generation Chinese. 

The Public-School Teachers. Theoretically speaking, 
the teachers in the public schools attended by the Chinese 
children are best qualified by their training, experience, and 
duty to give the children a good preparation for an efficient 
life in America. However, many conscientious teachers 
frankly told the writer that they could hardly do so be- 
cause of their inability to understand the children's lan- 
guage, home conditions, and future cultural and vocational 
possibilities. What we can hope from these teachers, there- 
fore, is: (1) that they will do their best to prevent the 
breeding of racial prejudice among the children; (2) that 
they will provide an equal opportunity for the Chinese 
children to participate in all social and extracurricular 
activities in school; (3) that they will constantly keep in 
mind that there are some special needs and interests of the 
Chinese children which should be provided for; and (4) 
that if the public school cannot make such provisions for 
one reason or another, a considerable amount of liberty 
and stimulation and encouragement should be given to 
those agencies which may possibly fill the gap. 

The Teachers in the Chinese Schools. The teachers in 
the Chinese-language schools have a good many advan- 
tages over public-school teachers in the matter of practical 
education for the Chinese children. They speak the chil- 
dren's language. They could approach the parents easily 
and understand the pupils' home conditions, if they would 
like to do so. By their experience in China and in America, 


they should also be able to understand the needs of the 
children with regard to their future cultural and vocational 
possibilities. As the Chinese parents generally respect the 
teachers, according to the Chinese tradition, the teachers 
in the Chinese school should be in the position to deter- 
mine what will be most practical and useful for the children 
to learn in school. 

However, all these assumptions will never become true 
unless there are in the Chinese schools a few who have had 
adequate training in modern educational work, while the 
majority of the faculty have the courage to stand for edu- 
cational reform. So long as there are few who really know 
what and how to teach, and so long as most of the teachers 
are in fear of losing their jobs for proposing anything dis- 
agreeable to the parents, the natural outcome of the Chinese 
school will continue to be: (1) that most of the children 
may waste five or six years there without getting an ade- 
quate and practical knowledge of Chinese language and 
culture; (2) that the difficulty in learning Chinese with the 
old method and material of teaching may kill the interest of 
the child for further schooling and learning things Chinese ; 
(3) that the nonactivity program, as in many of the exist- 
ing Chinese-language schools, for the already tired children 
after long hoi T in the public school, may hinder their 
physical and mental growth; and (4) that the over- 
emphasis on order, obedience, submission, nonaggression, 
and memory in some of the Chinese schools may cultivate 
undesirable traits, which will prevent the younger genera- 
tion from being able to live efficiently in a dynamic 

One way which the writer may suggest to the Chinese 
teachers, therefore, is that they should, in the first place, 
organize themselves for professional improvement in teach- 
ing and learning. Secondly, they should plan to make a 


thoroughgoing study of the educational needs of the Chi- 
nese in America and then, upon facts found out, plan for 
a practical and efficient program to improve the existing 
conditions. Lastly, and most important of all, they should 
always stand like men of the profession. 

The Parents. The real factor which controls the fate 
of the younger generation Chinese is, after all, the parents. 
Their spheres of influence are both the home and the Chi- 
nese-language school. 

To be good parents they have to learn modern ways of 
raising and educating children ; for without such knowledge 
they will not be able to perform their duty and realize 
their true love. They must know that home environment 
affects the personality and the future life of the child, and, 
therefore, must try, as far as their economic conditions may 
allow, to provide a wholesome home. With regard to their 
relationship with the Chinese-language school, the writer 
has found out that they should change their present atti- 
tude along the following lines: (1) they must know that 
education for the children is far more than a mere matter 
of family pride or tradition — it should be a thing which 
will make the young worthy members of the society in 
which they are going to live; (2) they should not judge 
the type of education desirable for their children by the 
standards of their own generation; and (3) they should 
not select any teacher either because he is their kinsman, 
or because he is poor and needs a job, or because he came 
from the same district as they did — for teachers selected 
by standards other than training, ability, personality, and 
scholarship will have irremediable effect on the children. 

The Chinese parents never lack parental love; nor do 
they ever lack zeal for providing good educational opportu- 
nities for their children. What is needed, therefore, is 
chiefly an efficient system of adult or parent education, 


where they can learn all that a good modern parent has to 

The Grown-up Second-Generation Chinese. As far as 
the writer can observe, it seems pretty hard for the afore- 
mentioned groups to break the existing tradition. It 
seems to be more logical for us to tie our final hope to the 
grown-up second-generation Chinese, who have suffered 
many unendurable consequences of the old regime, and 
whose experience in different cultural patterns may enable 
them to interpret the cause and effect of the existing situa- 
tion and to determine the more desirable course for the 
generations coming after them. 

Unfortunately, most of the grown-up second-generation 
Chinese do not seem to recognize their unique situation, 
and face reality bravely. Thus, we find one intelligent 
writer describing her fellow second-generation Chinese as 
follows : 

That the so-called second-generation problem is not of our making, 
as we are mere victims of an environment forced upon us from a 
generation or two ago; and that we are not responsible for the 
plight in which we found ourselves; that it is not necessary to re- 
mind us American-born Chinese of our difficult situations and that 
we will do the best we can to make a living somehow and have a 
good time, seem to be a natural opinion for some of us to hold. 
"Life is short. What difference will it make anyway, a hundred 
years from now?" This quotation, it seems to me, represents this 
passive sentiment. 1 

This attitude is what we may call "a philosophy of free and 
easy life." When such a conception of life dominates the 
sentiment of youth, we can hardly expect anything con- 
structive from them. 

l Alice Fong, "A Challenge To The Chinese American," The Western Student 
(an occasional supplement to The Chinese Christian Student), November 23, 1932. 


"the PHILOSOPHY OF FREE AND easy life" 

Generally speaking, people may live in three different 
ways : ( 1 ) to the people of a static society, where everything 
is endeared by its long association with the individual, 
life is lived in the main, for the past and man becomes the 
slave of traditions and customary practices. Any change 
in the existing order of things would immediately disturb 
the individual and deprive him of the equilibrium of life. 
Such people are generally sentimental and often afraid of 
using any reasoning about things as they have been ; they 
are conservatives — the worshipers of the radicals of the 
past — and can hardly make adequate adjustment in life 
in modern society, where mobility of things is a rule rather 
than an incident. 

(2) To the innocent and carefree youth, life is general- 
ly taken playfully and cheerfully and for immediate pleas- 
ures. They leave the past ruthlessly behind them as the 
past, and consider any question about the future as silly 
and nonsensical. They are Epicureans, but cannot be 
called optimists, because they never have a sense of the 
future at all. This attitude is especially common among 
the younger generation of the well-to-do and the wealthier 
classes of any society. When questioned, these young men 
often rationalize themselves as wise men who know how 
to enjoy life while it can be enjoyed. But they will some- 
day discover their fallacy and regret that it is too late for 

(3) To the ambitious youth, men of promise, idealists, 
religious persons, and some philosophers, life appears in 
various degrees between dream and constructive plan for 
the future. They can sacrifice any present pleasure for 
future grandness or for the life to come. They are promis- 
ing, but their success in the worldly sense of the term will 


depend on their ability to see the continuous life processes 
between the present and the future. The overambitious 
will not only miss much in the past and present life, but 
may also be easily disappointed in the future for having 
too much expectation. 

The social and economic conditions of the Chinese youth 
in the United States are conducive to the second type of 
attitude towards life. It is not that the Chinese here are 
all well-to-do. It is, on the contrary, because the Chinese 
American cannot have much cultural, social, and especially 
economic, outlook. On the one hand, the dynamic forces 
of the American society compel him to give up the static 
conception of life, though it has been the philosophy of his 
forefathers. On the other hand, the lack of opportunity 
and outlook as compared with other dominant races in 
America will naturally prevent him from adopting the 
third type of attitude mentioned above. 

But things that seem to be natural are by no means 
necessarily desirable or justifiable. For the time being, 
the Chinese youth here may of course hold "the philosophy 
of a free and easy life," but they should not forget that a 
"free and easy life," as the term is used here, is always con- 
ditioned by the social and economic situations of the 
country, and that in a dynamic society the social and eco- 
nomic conditions, especially those of the Chinese as a 
group, are liable to unexpected changes — the present de- 
pression is an excellent illustration. Thus, if our youth 
do not have anything dependable and firm irrespective of 
changing circumstances, how long will they be able to hold 
such a "philosophy?" 

Furthermore, the so-called free and easy life is generally 
based on things superficial and temporary. The happiness 
derived from such a conception of life is also necessarily 
superficial, temporary, and often at the expense of greater 


happiness. As human beings, we must be able to live on a 
higher level than lower animals for whom life is not much 
more than a continuous change between pleasure and 

Besides this practical conception of life, the Chinese 
youth still need a more aggressive attitude towards the 
life situation. We often hear Chinese people in this 
country complaining against "racial prejudice" and "in- 
equality of opportunities." These and other unjust racial 
relationships undoubtedly exist, but the fault is really ours 
if we do not try to show and prove to other people that 
their conception of our race is wrong. We must know that 
the undesirable things in life are generally very much like 
bad dogs; the more we try to run away from them, the 
more fierce will they become. As a race, we Chinese have 
too long been taught to be modest and self-reserved. These 
were supreme qualities in the good old days. But in a 
dynamic age we should be more aggressive in dealing with 


In accordance with the above conception of life we may 
draw a tentative outline of what the second-generation 
Chinese should do, from which a detailed program may be 
made with reference to specific situations. This outline 
may be divided into two parts : 

(A) Concerning the Individual. 

1. Build up a good workable philosophy of life through reading, 
thinking, and careful observation. 

2. Keep one's life problem in mind constantly; do not live for the 
present alone, especially when it is detrimental to future and 
greater happiness. 


3. Select, as early as possible during high school years, something 
for a life career; and stick to it, utilizing every possible oppor- 
tunity to develop one's capacity and skill along the same line. 

4. The subject for specialization should be based on four im- 
portant considerations: (a) one's true interest; (b) personal 
capacity — both mental and physical; (c) one's social and eco- 
nomic resources; and (d) the future needs and possibilities of 
the community in which one is going to live. 

5. Determine to eliminate any habit that will keep one from 
higher ideas and greater achievements in the future. 

6. Keep the attitude of the older generation toward hard work. 

7. Pay close attention to the social, economic, and political prob- 
lems of America, China, and the world at large. 

8. Cultivate as deep an interest in the life career as one does in 
games; remember that the game of good life is of course hard to 
play and cannot be readily appreciated, but the enjoyment it 
brings will be everlasting. 

9. Do not live for self; cultivate the spirit of sacrifice and do so 

10. Be ready to cooperate with the good and stand against the evil. 

11. Try to understand the viewpoints of people of different social 
and cultural backgrounds. 

12. Never limit one's social circle to people of one's own race; re- 
member that the best way to enrich life experience is to associ- 
ate with good people of different nationalities. 

13. Be able to face reality bravely and stand any kind of criticism. 

14. Try to have a practical knowledge of Chinese language and cul- 
ture, instead of attempting to know many other languages. 2 
(This is for both cultural and vocational purposes: Culturally, 

2 By "practical knowledge of Chinese language and culture" we mean that the 
second-generation Chinese should learn the most popular language of modern China, 
instead of learning classical Chinese with Cantonese colloquial expression, as most of 
the Chinese-language schools here are doing. According to a recent report of the 
Chinese National Association for Mass Education Movement, "mandarin" or its 
slight modification, is used by about 80 per cent of the people in China, and it can 
be put down in writing to form the popular written language of China today, while 
the Cantonese dialects are used only by people in and from Kwangtung province 
and do not have corresponding written expressions. This modern Chinese language 
is also much easier to learn than the classical Chinese. The writer has had two 
years of experience in teaching in connection with our experimental mass education 
movement, which has convinced him that it is a fact rather than speculation that 
the illiterate Chinese farmers and village children can master considerable reading 
and writing ability of modern Chinese language by spending only one hour a day 
for four months in the so-called "popular schools." 


the intelligent citizens of America now have a growing interest 
in things Chinese, and their vision in the future development 
of international relations of the Pacific has convinced them of 
the need of the American people to have a better understanding 
of oriental culture and languages. Thus, it is both the op- 
portunity and duty of the Chinese-American to be the medium 
of culture diffusion and the representative of the better part 
of the Chinese civilization. As for vocational purpose, a prac- 
tical knowledge of Chinese language and culture will increase 
his vocational mobility, both vertically and horizontally.) 

15. Start life anew; do not lament over what has been wrong, un- 
less it can serve as an incentive for a better life. 

16. Be determined to make opportunities, instead of waiting and 
envying others for having "good luck." 

17. Never excuse oneself by the fact that everybody else has been 
doing the same thing; for while one's fellow people are asleep, 
it is one's duty and opportunity for leadership. 

(B) Suggested Group Activities. We Chinese are 
often said to lack the ability to organize and cooperate. 
Individually, we are perhaps as good and capable as any 
other people of the world; but collectively, we are very 
much like a heap of loose sand. However, though we may 
admit this to be the fact, we should not interpret it as 
something inborn with our race. It is largely due to some 
weakness in our old system of training. By careful analyz- 
ing, eliminating, and correcting the undesirable practices 
in our traditional system of education, we can surely gen- 
erate a new spirit in our race. As for the American-born 
Chinese, the problem of cooperation is made easier by the 
fact that they have learned in American public schools 
and society at large many good qualities necessary for 
group activity and organization. Such qualities are, for 
instance, sportsmanship, fair play, tolerance, respect for 
the rights and opinions of other people, self-sacrifice, under- 
standing, generosity, et cetera. What they need is, there- 
fore, to select and determine the most worth while activi- 


ties, which may be illustrated by the following sample pro- 
gram for the improvement of the present and future con- 
ditions of the Chinese in America : 

I. The Supreme Purpose of All Organizations. To secure a better 
social economic and cultural status of all Chinese in America. 

II. Educational Activities. The most important educational ac- 
tivities for the second-generation Chinese are along two major lines: 

(a) Concerning American Public-School Education. The edu- 
cational interests of the American people are generally represented 
by the board of education. Since the Chinese, even with a large 
population in a city like San Francisco, can never hope to have a 
Chinese member on the board, it is doubtful whether the educational 
interests and needs of the Chinese American have ever been con- 
sidered. One simple instance for the writer to have such a doubt 
is the negligence of Chinese language and culture even in those 
schools where the entire student body, or a large percentage of it, 
are Chinese children. Hence, it seems advisable for the grown-up 
second-generation Chinese to have some sort of educational organi- 
zation to consider their educational needs and interests, and then 
make suggestions to or cooperate with the city board of education 
for any necessary adjustment. 

(b) Concerning Chinese Language and Culture. To meet the 
demand for a practical knowledge of Chinese language and culture, 
the grown-up second-generation Chinese should not merely depend 
on the existing Chinese-language schools with their shortcomings in 
organization and in curriculum. They should organize themselves 
for two activities : In the first place, they should try hard to persuade 
their elders and the teachers to reorganize the Chinese schools on a 
modern basis. In the second place, they should carry on the fol- 
lowing educational activities: (1) to organize adult classes to study 
modern Chinese language and culture; (2) to utilize the buildings 
of the existing Chinese schools and other public places for lecture, 
debate, forum, play, and other meetings for educational purposes; 
and (3) to organize library and reading circles and other informal 
organizations for studying Chinese language and culture. 

III. Vocational Activities. The most needed organization for 
second-generation Chinese is perhaps a well-organized employment 


bureau with branches in all larger Chinese communities. The more 
important functions of such a bureau are, for example, as follows: 

(1) To secure reliable vocational information for the members. 

(2) To offer proper guidance to younger members in choosing 
and preparing for future occupation. 

(3) To keep exact, detailed records for the members of their 
training, ability, character, experience, et cetera, so that whenever 
there is a position either in this country or in China, the bureau will 
know who is best fitted for the job and who will make a good repu- 
tation for the bureau and other members. 

(4) To cooperate with other bureaus of the same nature in China 
and in the United States. 

(5) To stimulate interest among the members in their prepara- 
tion for life careers. 

IV. Social Activities. In all Chinese communities in America 
there is plenty of opportunity for organized social work. If some- 
body would just take the lead, it would not be hard for him to get 
supporters among the energetic young men and women. What is 
really needed is to have a good program of important activities 
which will make the young folks interested in social work. The 
following are just a few examples of such activities as will appeal to 
young men and women of a higher type of ability and personality: 

(1) Campaigns for better sanitary conditions in the Chinese 

(2) Medical and philanthropic services to the sick, the defective, 
and other unfortunate people. 

(3) Campaigns against illiteracy among the Chinese population. 

(4) Campaigns against sectionalism and localism. 

(5) Studying the present and future economic possibilities of 
the Chinese in America. 

(6) Making systematic surveys of the economic conditions of 
the Chinese in America. Such surveys should be critical, scientific, 
and constructive, with suggestions for improvement. 

(7) A program of activities to improve the relationship between 
Chinese people and other nationalities in America. 

(8) Raising funds for carrying on different social activities. 

(9) Other social and recreational activities. 

In conclusion, the writer wishes to state that the problem 
of second-generation Chinese is indeed a very difficult one, 



but it is not beyond possible solution. What is needed for 
the second-generation Chinese is chiefly a little thinking 
and imagination, which will bring them to the recognition 
of their unique opportunity at the crucial point of life. If 
they just care to think, everything will gradually take care 
of itself. 

Reprinted from Sociology and Social Research 
July- August, 1934, Vol. XV 111, No. 6